Moral theologian unpacks pope’s new encyclical, says to ‘live in love’

Jen Hantz

Staff Writer

Pope Francis’ new encyclical “Fratelli Tutti” came hot off the papal presses on Saturday, Oct. 3, and has led to world-wide discussion about its interpretation of brotherly love, especially on Franciscan University of Steubenville’s campus.

From friendship and solidarity to politics and markets, this new encyclical covers various avenues of issues. It is composed into somewhat of a capstone considering how the pope quotes himself from previous documents he wrote, according to Donald Asci, who holds a doctorate in moral theology.

Francis began writing “Fratelli Tutti” in February 2019 after meeting with the Grand Imam Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, Asci said.

Asci said that the pope uses St. Francis as a reference point for brotherhood and the parable of the Good Samaritan as the centerpiece of the encyclical, renewing and expanding the call to love of neighbor.

“It’s on the social dimension of Christian discipleship,” said Asci. “To be a disciple of Christ is to fulfill the great command of Christ to ‘love one another as I have loved you.’”

He said that this love of neighbor has been hindered by the philosophy of liberalism that society has lived. He said that it leads to the individualistic idea that everyone functions for the benefit of oneself.

Asci said that liberalism is the person turned in on his or her self that leads to the concept of using other people for one’s own benefit.

While the people must be willing to give of themselves to society, leaders of society must also be prudent with how they lead their institutions. They cannot always be giving in to what the people want, said Asci.

Francis addresses how globalization brings about a false sense of oneness that is not based on humanity and it can lead to exploiting people, Asci said.

“When (Francis) talks about the solidarity that we should try to have … we’re not trying to obliterate all those differences and then … he’s good at saying ‘We’re not favoring relativism. We actually see relativism as a real threat to (love),’” Asci said.

The papal encyclical was further discussed in a panel discussion given at the university on Thursday, Oct. 29.

Panel member Michael Sirilla, who holds a doctorate in systematic theology, said Francis seemed to write the encyclical as an invitation to open up a dialogue rather than a one-way letter, since it is not addressed to anyone in particular.

Michael Welker, who holds a doctorate in international economics, said the letter is like the road to Emmaus in the Bible. Jesus invites his disciples into a conversation and starts dialoguing with them.

In this open conversation, some people criticize the document’s call to this radical love of neighbor, naming it impossible, said Sirilla.  He countered this criticism by reinforcing the Gospel message. “You can’t achieve consistent, virtuous common good apart from the Gospel,” he said.

Welker continued to deliver the Gospel message by discussing markets. He said the purpose of markets is an exercise of giving of one’s self. A person works to be able to provide for his or her family and more.

“I give because society needs my help to build the common good,” he said.

Sirilla said work is not empty — work is meaningful. Private property is a means of discovering one’s vocation to give of oneself.

“(Private property) is not intrinsically bad. It’s actually good. It’s just not absolute,” he said.

Welker said, “The right to private property can only be secondary.”

Welker said the story of the rich young man wanting to be holy is an example of how people should be with their possessions. He said Jesus told the young man to go and sell everything he had to follow the Lord.

Regardless of what aspect the encyclical highlights, one message speaks loud and clear.

“What we really need to be focused on is the challenge of the encyclical (to) … robust love of neighbor,” said Asci. “The value of this document really is in that modern-day restatement of that Gospel challenge.”